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Trip Information

Blue Domes
Blue Domes (2)
Trip Date:2004-11-06 - 2004-11-08
# Photos:8 [View]
Countries visited:Uzbequistão
Visto: 5644
Midnight, Moscow time. The beginning of a long day which I meet on a seat 10D (in the business class) on the Uzbekistan Airways flight from Moscow to Tashkent.

I don’t normally travel privately in the business class, and just an hour ago I wasn’t supposed to fly at all… I arrived at the airport well before the flight and happened to share the check-in queue with a group of Uzbek men who declared themselves a “delegation” but looked more like “chelnoks” or “shuttle traders” who facilitate trade links between countries even though most often these links are of semi-legal and illegal nature. Oversized leather jackets, somber faces and loads of luggage are their signs.

After an hour’s wait in the queue a passenger immediately in front of me announced, his voice full of disbelief, “No more seats left” and I thought “Do I really want to go to Uzbekistan today?” (Try queuing up for an hour behind Uzbek chelnoks!) I started making plans for a stay-in weekend, sleeping late and wasting time on Internet, and declared my total refusal to go to a hotel room offered by the Uzbekistan Airlines. A few minutes later the airline representative suddenly called me and the two other remaining women at the check in and said “I’ll board women”. There are always seats available in the first and business class!

4:45 Uzbek time and we have just landed in the Tashkent International Airport. A familiar Soviet style customs declaration which suddenly becomes as important as passport as everyone at the Customs keeps repeating “don’t lose it”. Currency exchange office has two young girls guarded by a sleeping man in the uniform and a notice board over the sleeping guard which says “Currency exchange Monday to Friday only”(a tip: don’t arrive in Tashkent during weekend). I am given half an inch thick stack of Uzbek Sums and an exchange certificate with two stamps in exchange for a single $100 note. Already familiar “Don’t lose the certificate”. Squat toilet welcomes me to Asia.

So what’s changed since 1996 when I was in Uzbekistan last time? Currency. Alphabet. And nothing else. (They replaced the Cyrillic alphabet and adopted the Latin across the country almost overnight. Noone thought about teaching people to read new Latin letters, who would think of such small detail if you have a country to play with?)

However, latinisation hasn’t yet reached the Domestic Airport. “Do you need tickets?” I am greeted at the entrance by a Leather Jacket. I have time to finish two large pots of green tea (100 sums, or 10 cents, each) before I check in for the Samarkand flight.

9:50 am and I have finally landed at Samarkand. It takes me an hour to give up trying to get some sleep. I am out and about at midday.

I choose to skip taxi and to walk to Registan, although it is over half an hour walking distance from the Malika hotel. Taking a taxi in the old Silk Route city seems to me a frivolous act. As a result, tt takes me a couple of hours (including a 30 minute internet session at an Internet café) to reach Registan, the ultimate purpose of my weekend trip, and – it’s there! It’s still there! Praise to Allah, it has been waiting for me.

Registan Square comprises three ancient Madressahs (Islamic colleges) which were built in the 15th-18th centuries and which form a square in the middle. This square used to be the centre of life in the old Samarkand. It turns out to be much bigger than I expected, but not less beautiful, and it requires the entrance fee of 2,400 Sums plus 1,000 Sums camera fee. As it’s already afternoon, the Uzbek babushka at the entrance promises to let me in tomorrow for no fee.

I spend at least an hour taking photos: this trip is my photographic expedition to Registan. I almost forget about souvenir shopping until I discover that one of the Madressahs a was converted to a set of souvenir shops, all selling exactly the same souvenirs in the same wild colours of Asia: ceramics, scarves, bags. I buy an Uzbek robe called chopan whih I traded down from $15 to $10 plus a piala. After that I am heading towards the bazaar, the modern centre of life of the city, and the main place for locals to do their shopping, food and everything else except may be for the air tickets. I am found of kuraga (dried apricots) and khurma (persimmons) grown in Uzbekistan.

Bibi Khanum mosque, the principal mosque of the city, is just in front of the bazaar. It is not less beautiful than the Registan Square and is done in the same style. I venture in and a lady at the entrance immediately stops me asking to pay the entrance fee. “Why?” – “Eto svyatoe mesto (It is a sacred place)” – “I don’t pay to enter sacred places” – “It is a monument” – “Then I have already seen everything I wanted to see” (and took a picture, I should add) and I leave. I like visiting mosques for that special almosphere and people watching opportunities, and Bibi Khanum, being a mosque converted to the monument, lacks both. So I continue to the bazaar.

It’s 16:30 already and I am starving. There is a small eating place at the entrance to the bazaar, with windows overlooking the entrance and the Bibi Khanum. Ideal! The only food available at this time is shurpa (Uzbek beef and potato soup) and Samarkand bread (which is wonderful) and of course there is always a pot of green tea. Delicious! Considering I have been living off airplane food for the last 24 hours. Half an hour later I am hurrying to explore the bazaar, which is already showing signs of slowing down with some traders wrapping their produce and leaving.

Déja vu! The Samarkand bazaar looks very much like the Tashkent bazaar of 1996 - “sestra, sestra!” (“sister, sister”) – and I buy the same: kuraga, roasted chickpeas, khurma, apples, aiva. The bazaars extends beyond the covered area and looks like it is the main shopping place for locals, the stores in the city have zero visitors and empty shelves. The death of the legal commerce. As in the Tashkent bazaar, it is not so much about huggling as about chatting to the traders – the prices are already unbelievably low.

The day finishes early in Samarkand, everyone is at home by the sunset which happens around 6 pm with the city getting wrapped in total darkness by 7 pm. I am coming back home loaded with purchases, and when I reach the residential area where my hotel is located I realise I have no idea where to go. The street is empty and the street lighting is scarce. Luckily the taxis are still abudance, I catch one: “Malika Hotel, how much?” – “Just give me a little something”.

The Malika’s kitchen is cooking dovlyama tonight, a hotpot of meat and vegetables. By 8 pm I am ready for bed, by 9 pm I am asleep. Before collapsing, however, I arrange a car trip to Shahrezabz, the birth place of Tamerlane, for the following day.